|After the "Africa-like" Pacific coast I returned to Colombia, you could say. From Cali I went to Armenia where I spent two nights. Armenia itself is not of much interest, but nearby was the Parque Nacional Del Cafe, a Disneyland style themepark dedicated to the history, growing, harvesting, and exportation of coffee. It is appropriately located right in the heart of Colombia's coffee growing district. The theme park was a good enough way to pass the day, but for me the highlight was the "show del cafe", an incredible folkloric show. The costumes, dances, and singing was on par with the Hanoi Chinese watter puppet theater.
After Armenia I spent three nights in Solento, a tiny village of 3000 in the midst of lush, green mountains. As for accomodation, the place I stayed in Armenia versus the one in Solento exemplifies the radically differing choices possible when travelling. In Armenia I stayed in a standard business hotel. For 25,000 (=12$US) I got a spotless room, huge bed, a large TV with cable, and my own spotless bathroom with raging hot water. However, in this type of hotel you stay in your room and the experience is completely stale and impersonal.
By contrast, in Salento I got a private room in a typical "backpacker hostal". For the same exact price I got a shitty room with a tiny bed and thin walls, and had to share a bathroom with lukewarm water. Getting to the bathroom was an obstacle course as many slugs liked to slither all over the walkway. However, the hostal has a communal kitchen so I could cook vegetables (a wonderful break from the food here) and several rooms to hang out in with the various other travellers. Each night was a very social experience and the owners were very nice (British guy married to a Colombian woman) and provided ample information about the area. With a cat and five dogs to play with it was not a boring place. I cant really say which place is better, it just depends on what mood you are in, I suppose.
I spent three days in Salento, mostly hiking. One day, accompanied by two women (a Brit and a Czech), I took a jeep to the nearby Valle de Cocora, a beautiful valley with ample trails. It is unique because of the many, strange palm trees that line the valley, and was a stunning landscape. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get any good photos of the valley proper. We did a big hike, a nice five hour loop through the cloud forest (click for a video) over some mountain passes and crossing many rivers on suspension bridges (click for a video). On the hike we found a place with many different types of hummingbirds (see the photo). The only downer that we got rained on for the last five kilometers, but when we got back to the small village the British girl, who had gone ahead, had found us the best cakes I have ever had in South America, and we overgorged on them while we died off.
The next day four of us rented horses. One woman, an interesting traveller named Annie was a horse expert and helped bring us up to speed (click for a video). We went for about five hours, the whole way up a road (click for a video) and it was a good time (click for a video of me on my horse) and the scenery was beautiful. On the way home we stopped by a nice waterfall and then we ran into some army guys. The "ejercito Colombiano", or Colombian army, has a bad reputation for it's heavy handed behavior, and many people would fear just such an encounter. Sure enough, these guys turned out to be ferocious (click for a video). Colombia is just sooooo cool.